In the context of an NBA series, there are always going to be turns that lead to overreactions, except in the instance of a sweep. Phoenix-Portland Game 1 is one such turn. Immediately afterward, the buzzards came a calling. Phoenix was “done.” The matchup advantages seemed evident. LaMarcus Aldridge owned the mid-range, no one could stop Andre Miller, Marcus Camby controlled the glass. Why even play the other three games?
The Suns embarrassed the Blazers on their home floor tonight, continuing the Blazers’ theme of snatching tragedy from the jaws of joy. And you can watch the half-court alley-oops, the 46% perimeter shooting, Jason Richardson tearing them into pieces, setting those pieces on fire, and then burying those pieces in the desert before taking a whiz on their ashes. But the Suns won this game with what people have said they can’t do. Defense.
The Suns took what they learned in Game 2 and took it to its natural extension. If stifling Andre Miller with Grant Hill and a secondary defender worked well in Game 2, what happens if you extend that to all of the Blazer weapons? Shot clock violations, it turns out. The Suns started the series thinking their talent alone would be enough to take the series, opting to go one-on-one man. But that’s not how any good defense gets the job done. Man-help, bursting to cut off penetration and swamping the perimeter kick out with ball pressure.That’s the way you do it, and that’s the way the Suns did it.
The Suns swarmed the Blazers to lead 66-37 at the half and went on to a 108-89 win to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Portland made a stiff comeback in the late third, early 4th, whittling the lead down to 12, but then the Suns started trying again.
The Suns were out-rebounded, out-assisted, and lost the turnover battle. Amar’e Stoudemire had just 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers. So what could the Suns possibly have done that led to such a big point differe….oh. They shot 8% better from the field, holding the Blazers under 44% and shooting 52.9% themselves. Pretty simple strategy, when you think about it. “Hey, guys, let’s try putting the ball in the hold more times than we miss, and not let them do the same. Ready? Break.”
The series is far from over. A few adjustments and the Blazers will be in a position to even the series. They’ll need to create space and will likely be without Nicolas Batum who left with a shoulder injury. I know, a Blazer injury. I understand you’re stunned. I’ll give you a minute to gather your senses in this strange new world we’ve entered.
But the Suns have set a tone in the last two games, and the Blazers look more and more like a team that is solvable, while the Suns seem like a team you can get your shots in on, but that Portland can’t put away. At least for now. Check back in a game or two. This series is like that.